November is American Diabetes Awareness Month, which is a good time to discuss the political ramifications associated with the disease.
At the moment, I’m thinking more about one of my baseball heroes, Lou Brock – the St. Louis Cardinals great who recently had the lower half of his left leg amputated as a result of diabetes.
Growing up in Osburn in the early 1960s, when my life revolved around baseball, I started rooting for the Cardinals during the 1964 World Series against the hated Yankees. Bob Gibson and Lou Brock were two of the stars of that team, and they led the Cardinals to two more National League pennants later in that decade.
Brock, one of the greatest base stealers of all time, seemed to save his best for World Series – turning the best pitchers into nervous wrecks every time he reached base. Brock didn’t hit for much power during his Hall of Fame career, but he often turned walks into triples with his blinding speed. Back in the ‘60s and ‘70s, he was unstoppable and seemed indestructible.
Earlier this month I read about a different Lou Brock – one suffering from a cruel complication that diabetes inflicts on so many people. At age 76, he lost half his leg, which has me pondering what awaits me. I, too, have diabetes and I’m only 11 years younger than this former baseball great.
As bad as a leg amputation might seem, it’s not the worst thing that can happen to somebody with diabetes. Strokes, heart attacks and kidney disease often come with this silent killer. No one dies from diabetes specifically, but 10 million people worldwide – or one person every 10 seconds – die from complications from diabetes. And in all too many cases, death becomes a welcome relief from the suffering.
More than 30 million people in the United States have the disease, another 86 million have a ticking time bomb called pre-diabetes. The disease is showing no signs of slowing down. It is projected that by 2050, one in three people in the United States will have diabetes. With Latinos, African Americans and Native Americans, one in two people in the USA will have diabetes.
Which brings me to politics. If these projections hold true, it will cripple the nation’s health care system. Obamacare will look like a financial bargain by comparison. And if obesity numbers continue to skyrocket, we’ll return to the bad-old days when 40 is considered old. If there’s “good” news, it’s that the financial problems with Social Security and Medicare would be resolved. People won’t be living long enough to collect those benefits.
As it stands, the cost of diabetes is daunting. According to the American Diabetes Association, treatment costs went from $172 billion in 2007 to $245 billion in 2012 – a 41 percent increase. People diagnosed with diabetes can expect to pay almost $14,000 a year in medical expenditures. Loss of productivity in the workplace accounts for another $60 billion.
Think what these staggering figures might look like by 2050, when diabetes becomes society’s “new normal.”
So, yes, this is a big political issue – and one that will get bigger as Americans get fatter. Fast-food chains are not helping matters with their advertising campaigns that glorify gluttony to the same level as tobacco promoted smoking in the ‘50s. Clearly, food has become the new cigarettes of our time.
But it’s not all gloom and doom. The American Diabetes Association, for one, has been fighting the diabetes war on multiple fronts. It has long been a go-to source for information about management of the disease and nutrition. On the lobbying end, the ADA and others have advocated for continued funding for research and prevention through the National Institute of Health and Centers for Disease Control. The Senate Diabetes Caucus, which includes Idaho Sens. Mike Crapo and Jim Risch, has been a strong working partner on the diabetes issue. With the leadership from caucus members, research funding for diabetes has more than tripled since 1997 – going from $319 million to more than $1 billion today.
“We’ve made a lot of progress in the fight against diabetes, but it is critical that we continue to advance this progress,” Risch said. “There is much more to be done as far as research and prevention, and I can say that I look forward to the future where one day diabetes will be wiped out.”
If that day comes, he’ll play a big role in making it happen.